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Storm the polls

As the nation’s attention shifts from the destruction in New York City and New Jersey back to the electoral battlegrounds of Ohio and Virginia, new political questions linger in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. These uncertainties loom large in Connecticut, and particularly in New Haven.
Just as turnout in Ohio is crucial to the President’s re-election prospects, turnout in the Elm City could make all the difference in the tightly contested battle between Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy (5th district), and Republican businesswoman Linda McMahon for Connecticut’s open Senate seat. Polling has shown a very tight race, and even a slight drop in turnout of heavily Democratic urban areas like New Haven could pave the way for a McMahon victory.

Whether or not lingering affects of Sandy’s devastation will stanch turnout remains to be seen. Any drop is expected to favor McMahon. Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, extended the voter-registration period in an effort to ensure the storm did not stop anyone’s last-minute registration. The deadline was moved from 8 p.m. on Oct. 30 to the same time two days later, a move that Elm City residents have taken advantage of.

“People came to register today,” said Rae Tramontano, the Republican registrar of voters for New Haven on Wednesday, “and we expect the same tomorrow.” She added that while some polling places were afflicted by power outages, it was likely that they would be up and running by Election Day. And, if not, contingency plans are in place with the Secretary of State’s office to notify residents of polling place changes.

While every effort is made to ensure the polling places are open, the campaigns found themselves thrown into disarray facing questions not only of turnout, but also of the appropriateness of campaigning under such circumstances. Campaigns statewide shut down on Oct. 28 because of the storm, and stayed shuttered through Oct. 30, slowly beginning operations again the next day.
Jimmy Tickey, campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D. Conn., 3rd District), said the Congresswoman had canceled campaign events to visit storm shelters and businesses on Tuesday and Wednesday, and to speak with residents impacted by the storm.

“What comes first are people’s lives, their homes,” said Tickey, citing the many communities still without power and the extensive damage done to some parts of the state. “Campaigning can come after all of that.”How the storm affects candidates’ get-out-the-vote operations remains to be seen. The Yale College Democrats began their voter turnout efforts in New Haven on Tuesday night, but did so even as the statewide campaign operations remained shut down.

New Haven voter turnout could make all the difference, as it did in 2010 when Malloy won the governorship by fewer than 7,000 votes of over a million cast. None of the campaigns quite know what the storm will mean for Election Day. But one thing is certain, according to Elizabeth Larkin, the communications director for the Democratic Party of Connecticut: “Greater turnout always favors Democrats.”